Cautionary Instruction Law and Legal Definition

A cautionary instruction is part of the judge's charge to a jury, warning them not to be influenced by any factors outside of the evidence presented in court. It may direct the jury to consider the evidence in a particular way, or not to construe the actions of the judge as the giving of an opinion on an issue.

For example, the judge may give a cautionary instruction on the credibility of informants in a criminal case. Also, when a codefendant has been dismissed from the case the jury may assume that the codefendant pled guilty. This, in turn, may prompt the jury to draw an adverse inference against the defendant. Therefore, a cautionary instruction may be appropriate. Cautionary instructions are also refered to as limiting instructions.